Parry Sound -- we're just past Parry Sound when the speed limit slows to 60 and a cop cruiser putts along ahead of us at an easy 59, inches from our bumper.
I signal, slip into the left lane. He doesn't expect us to go exactly the speed limit, does he? I tap on the gas. The cop looks over, smiles.
Twenty minutes later we're off again, complaining about $130 speeding tickets, jerk cops and the rain. We've got some paddling to do, and we're going to get wet.
We pull into the Hartley Bay Marina on the French River, on the west side of Highway 69, and drop the canoes in the water. Jordan and I are partners. Nasser and Kaley are partners in more than just the canoeing sense they'll be married in two months. I hope we don't witness any emotional disasters. We're on vacation.
Jordan is a machine, paddling every so often with one hand while he wipes the rain off his glasses. We whip through a channel busy with boats and cottages, push through Wanapitei Bay and slide down the French, that long blue expanse of water that runs from North Bay, the town, to Georgian Bay, the wind-bashed neighbour of Lake Huron.
We're haunted by echoes of voyageur paddlers and think back to the days when this river was a 401 to the riches of the West. We lack any capitalistic instincts, however, and lazily float down the wide river, snacking, smoking, chatting.
Somewhere in our slothfulness, we become lost in a maze of islands and dead ends. We stop for lunch and think about our predicament. There's no other way to get ourselves found, we tell ourselves, than to paddle. I consult the map and Nasser keeps asking which way we're headed. "Ober dere," I say, pointing. For some reason this is funny.
We end up at a portage linking Bass Lake to Georgian Bay. There's a boardwalk, like something from Atlantic City minus Bruce Springsteen and babes on roller skates. Jordan carries two packs, a canoe and a paddle.
"I don't like to go backwards," he says.
The wind is light and we slip along a rocky shoreline, silent, half because we're in awe, half because we're scared to death. The lake has destroyed much bigger boats than ours.
We dart from island to island. Eventually, a long finger of water stretches inland and we meet up with the French River again, this time with the main channel. We're happy to see it.
We pull up on the eastern shore, then wander in the scrub brush where the French River Village, the map tells us, once thrived during lumber days. We find railroad ties, rotten machinery and broken beer bottles among the stone shells of old houses.
We hop back in the boats. It's afternoon now, and we paddle to a small rapid and, behind it, a bigger one. The rapids, like so many department store escalators, are pointed in the wrong direction.
I put a pack on my back and trudge through thickets and spiky twigs, a mushy section of swamp. We pound Kool-Aid and eat peanut butter and honey sandwiches, our hands a sticky mess.
I look for a campsite, spot a weak path to my right. I drop my pack and bound up and over. Within seconds I race back for the others. "Get up here," I tell them. "It's awesome."
We have all sorts of plans: to fish, to run the rapids, to explore, to swim. Instead we spend our time reading, napping, and swatting blackflies. When I get home the welts spring up 40 on my left forearm alone.
We spend 48 hours without wetting a paddle. At the end of our last night Nasser makes a statement: "This was my best day," he says, swigging tea with Kaley beside him. "Ever."